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JCOPE does not revoke approval of Cuomo book


ALBANY – A strong majority of New York’s ethics commissioners present for a vote on Tuesday voted in favor of revoking the approval of former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s lucrative book deal. Yet the motion was still defeated by a vote because so many other commissioners had left the meeting by the time the vote took place late Tuesday afternoon.

By a margin of seven votes for and two against, the commissioners overseeing the Joint Commission on Public Ethics failed to pass a motion rescinding its own staff’s approval for Cuomo to write last year’s book. , “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Eight votes in favor were needed to pass the motion. And at the time of the vote around 3:30 p.m. – five hours after the meeting began – five of the 14 JCOPE commissioners did were not present.Long executive session in camera, where the motion and other matters were secretly discussed, before proceeding to the vote in public.

The two votes against the motion came from William Fisher – who was appointed to the committee by Cuomo – as well as Jose Nieves, the new president of JCOPE, who was recently appointed by Hochul.

JCOPE commissioner Gary Lavine agreed to vote on the motion after the end of the executive session – when a number of commissioners had left. This is one of the many times this year that a question has been referred to the executive session and then not received eight votes after the departure of the commissioners from a meeting.

If the approval were ultimately revoked, it could start the process of JCOPE commissioners seeking to recoup the millions of book revenue Cuomo raised from the publisher. After Tuesday’s vote, Lavine told The Times Union that he plans to request a special JCOPE meeting, where another vote could be taken on the same motion.

After receiving national praise for his early handling of the pandemic, Cuomo entered into a $ 5.1 million book deal with Crown, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House. The book was released in October 2020. However, Cuomo’s fortunes have since turned and he stepped down in August while facing possible impeachment. But on Tuesday, Cuomo received a rare chance.

As with other state employees, JCOPE had to endorse Cuomo to earn outside income. In Tuesday’s motion, Lavine argued that a senior JCOPE official did not have the authority to give approval in Cuomo’s case and that the approval should be revoked for additional reasons.

In 2012, JCOPE Commissioners adopted a resolution allowing the Executive Director of Personnel to take certain actions between monthly Commissioners meetings. JCOPE staff claim that this 2012 resolution granted it the authority to approve the Cuomo pound deal in July 2020.

But Lavine notes that JCOPE did not have an executive director as of July 2020, when staff approved the book deal with Cuomo.

In the absence of an Executive Director, JCOPE passed another resolution in 2019, which granted the power to exercise authority between meetings jointly to two people: General Counsel Monica Stamm and Deputy General Counsel Martin Levine. Under the resolution, if the two main JCOPE staff could not agree on a decision, then JCOPE president Michael Rozen would be the deciding vote.

But in the Cuomo book case, Stamm had recused herself due to a possible conflict of interest. This meant that Levine, without Stamm’s consent, had given Cuomo permission to write “American Crisis,” which ended up fetching a $ 5.1 million publishing deal.

Levine, the JCOPE staff member, was not allowed to approve alone under the 2019 resolution without Stamm’s consent, argues Lavine, the JCOPE commissioner.

Lavine also argued that Cuomo’s attorney made a materially false statement in seeking approval of the original book. In her letter to JCOPE in July 2020, Cuomo’s advisor at the time, Judith Mogul, said Cuomo’s staff would not be used to produce “American Crisis.” In fact, by the time Mogul sought approval, Cuomo’s staff were already deeply involved, including in editing.

Cuomo admitted to using government personnel on the book, but says that because they “volunteered” it was not a misuse of state government resources. Lavine, a Senate Republican appointed to the commission, argues that, despite everything, Mogul made a false statement by promising that government personnel would not be used. At a special meeting earlier in October, JCOPE commissioners also voted to hire an external law firm, which will investigate other circumstances of staff approval of the deal. book with Cuomo.

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